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Ten out of ten: Ireland's unbeaten 2009 in rugby

IRELAND 30 FRANCE 21 Croke Park IT WAS arguably Ireland’s best performance of 2009, the victory exorcising the ghosts of two…

IRELAND 30 FRANCE 21 Croke ParkIT WAS arguably Ireland’s best performance of 2009, the victory exorcising the ghosts of two years previously when France had denied their hosts in the first ever rugby match at Croke Park.

Ireland trailed early on to an Imanol Harinordoquy try but hit back with three of their own through Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy (right), the latter making a welcome return when introduced as a replacement and confirming his rehabilitation from a horrific arm injury.

ITALY 9 IRELAND 38

Stadio Flaminio

IRELAND STRUGGLED for most of the opening half, only rescuing an interval lead when Luke Fitzgerald grabbed the first of a brace of tries that afternoon in Rome.

Luke McLean had kicked three penalties to give his side a 9-7 lead, Ireland’s response courtesy of a long-range intercept try from Tommy Bowe.

The second half was much more comfortable for the visitors with David Wallace, Fitzgerald again and for the second match in succession Brian O’Driscoll crossing for tries.

IRELAND 14 ENGLAND 13

Croke Park

ONCE AGAIN Ireland’s captain Brian O’Driscoll played a seminal role in a hard-fought victory; forcing his way (right) over for a try from close range and also contributing a drop goal.

England were content to rely on their defence rarely showing any ambition. Ireland were guilty of some questionable decision making in their opponents 22.

It was 3-3 at half-time but the Irish pack took control and a late injury time Delon Armitage try flattered England.

SCOTLAND 15 IRELAND 22

Murrayfield

IRELAND TRAILED 12-9 at half-time, the points coming from the respective boots of Scotland fullback Chris Paterson and Ireland outhalf Ronan O’Gara. In a dour encounter, pockmarked by error, ultimately the difference between the sides on the scoreboard was a try by replacement number eight Jamie Heaslip, his second of the championship.

WALES 15 IRELAND 17

Millennium stadium

IRELAND WON a Grand Slam for the first time in 61 years.

Jack Kyle was in Cardiff to see Declan Kidney’s side emulate the 1948 vintage. Ireland trailed 6-0 but tries from Tommy Bowe and Brian O’Driscoll nudged the visitors 14-6 ahead.

Two penalties and a drop goal from Stephen Jones pushed Wales 15-14 in front before Ronan O’Gara masterfully responded with his own drop goal, celebrating in never-to-be-forgotten style (right).

The final dramatic moment of a tension laden end game saw Jones miss a long-range penalty.

CANADA 6 IRELAND 25

Thunderbird stadium

IRELAND COACH Declan Kidney was without most of his front-line players because of their involvement either in the Lions tour to South Africa or Leinster’s Heineken Cup final against the Leicester Tigers at Murrayfield.

He gave debuts to Ryan Caldwell, Darren Cave, Ian Dowling, Ian Keatley, John Muldoon, Niall Ronan, Mike Ross and Ian Whitten in a team captained by Rory Best.

Ireland had tries from Whitten, Barry Murphy and Tony Buckley.

USA 10 IRELAND 27

Santa Clara

ESSENTIALLY IRELAND’S second string completed their North American tour with a workmanlike victory over their hosts.

The Eagles, coached by Declan Kidney’s predecessor as Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan, were left to rue an off day with the boot from their outhalf Mike Hercus who missed four eminently kickable penalties.

The visitors had tries from Bob Casey, Ian Whitten (his second in a week), Rory Best and were also awarded a penalty try.

IRELAND 20 AUSTRALIA 20

Croke Park

THE AUSTRALIANS might claim that Ireland were fortuitous to escape with a draw but it was arguably no more than the home side deserved. Ireland, for whom Cian Healy made his debut, played the more adventurous rugby, albeit occasionally undermined by a little rustiness.

Drew Mitchell and Rocky Elsom crossed for the Australians while Tommy Bowe and captain Brian O’Driscoll, the latter’s effort with seconds left on the game clock meant the teams could not be separated. O’Driscoll and Elsom saw the funny side of it (left).

IRELAND 41 FIJI 6

RDS

IRELAND COACH Declan Kidney decided to make wholesale changes to give squad players an opportunity, which many grasped.

Jonathan Sexton made his debut for Ireland and collected the man of the match accolade for a hugely impressive display that included a flawless kicking display with the placed ball – seven from seven – in very difficult conditions. Munster’s Keith Earls contributed a brace of tries while Brian O’Driscoll Rob Kearney and Shane Horgan also crossed the whitewash.

IRELAND 15 SOUTH AFRICA 10

Croke Park

BILLED AS the battle of the battle of the hemispheres, it was a match that pitted the world and Tri-Nations champions and conquerors of the Lions against the Grand Slam winners with the global bragging rights on the line.

Declan Kidney entrusted the outhalf role to Jonathan Sexton and the young Leinster pivot didn’t let him down, kicking five penalties from seven attempts. The Springboks scored the only try of the game through Schalk Burger but the home side, including Jamie Heaslip (left) had the last laugh.

– Compiled by JOHN O’SULLIVAN